How Would Jesus Blog? Here’s How the Lord Would Answer Online Adversaries
An interview with Tom Gilson, author of How Would Jesus Blog: Answering Online Adversaries Jesus' Way
If Jesus had a blog, how would he deal with his readers and critics? Tom Gilson, senior editor here at The Stream, tells us in his short new book, How Would Jesus Blog: Answering Online Adversaries Jesus’ Way, attempting to figure this out. Tom spent years debating atheists on his Thinking Christian blog, and decided to analyze how Jesus dealt with adversaries.
He discovered one key thing: Jesus did not engage in lengthy discussions of apologetics with doubters. Instead, he had a few short words for them, where he pointed out their hypocrisies.
Tom says this is how we should be dealing with atheists online, which he refers to as “Setting the Mirror.” Instead of wasting time in long, drawn-out arguments that go nowhere, save your discussions for those who are genuinely interested.
RACHEL ALEXANDER: I read your book, and it struck me how much it sounded like reading C.S. Lewis. To what extent did C.S. Lewis influence you in writing it?
TOM GILSON: I never would have thought of making that comparison, but thank you! It’s hard to quantify Lewis’s influence on me, except to say it’s been huge. I’ve devoured just about everything he’s written, other than his academic and literary work. I appreciate so much the way he sets complex things forth in an understandable way, and if I’ve been able to do anything like that, I’m grateful for that.
RA: You have figured out something pretty groundbreaking. Is this approach fairly unique or are there others out there who are using this technique? Is it being taught anywhere?
TG: It’s new, as far as I know, except for one thing: It’s about being aware of your audience. That’s standard communication theory, which I first learned many years ago at a Communication Center sponsored by Cru, now called the Comm Lab. I recommend it highly.
RA: How can we persuade others to stop wasting so much time engaging in “hopelessly unproductive Internet religious debates?” Besides the obvious, getting everyone to read your book. Every day we see this play out on our Facebook pages, The Stream’s Facebook page, and in the comments after our Stream articles, to name a few locations.
TG: The only other answer I know of is to teach part of the principle, in shorter form: Jesus spent a whole lot more time with responsive people than he did with unresponsive ones, so it’s okay to disengage from unproductive dialogue.
The hard part is knowing how to disengage without disappearing, and how to do some good for the atheist online even while you’re disengaging. That’s what I spend most of my time on in the book.
RA: You’re a significant voice in Christian apologetics, but you explain that debating apologetics with atheists is basically a waste of time, and point to how Jesus didn’t bother getting into substantive arguments with “Adversarials.” Have you gotten any pushback from folks, especially Christian apologists, on this?
TG: What I’ve heard has been overwhelmingly positive. People who really know apologetics know from experience that it has limits. I think this book helps make sense of those limits in a new way, a very Christ-centered way. It frees us up from the false responsibility of trying to make apologetics work in places where (again) experience tells us it probably won’t. And it gives us another positive approach to use in those places, in place of apologetics.
Jesus did use apologetics, you know. See Acts 1:3 for example: “many convincing proofs.” But he used it where it made sense to use it. There’s a lot to learn through studying both where he used it and where he didn’t.
RA: “Setting the Mirror” is a way of turning someone’s offensive around on them, putting them on the defensive. How often do atheists figure this out and give up and go away?
TG: Pretty often, in my experience! Setting the Mirror is about observing the atheist’s own inconsistencies. They say they make all their decisions based on evidence, for example, and then they stereotype Christian individuals without any information whatsoever. Point that out to an atheist and they’re bound to feel uncomfortable. They can decide whether to face it and learn something about themselves, or to exit to avoid the discomfort. A lot of them exit.
There’s another factor, too: They like having control of the logic games they try to set for Christians to play. There’s a sense in which Christians have been guilty of dancing to their tune, trying to answer every challenge sent our way. If we pull out of that game, out of the dance they’re calling, it’s not so much fun for them any longer. That’s okay: I’m not here for their entertainment.
RA: How much time would you estimate you spend per week responding to Adversarials? Do you have any ballpark amount of time that you recommend folks keep as an upper limit each week?
TG: Years ago I was spending hours and hours a week responding to Adversarials. I do not recommend that to anyone anymore. Now it’s down to just a few minutes a week. But that depends on discerning the person really is an Adversarial type. That isn’t always instantly obvious. In fact, just because someone is an atheist doesn’t mean he’s an Adversarial atheist. So I’ll spend considerably more time with people who aren’t Adversarial, or who might be Adversarial but haven’t really proved it yet.
As for an upper limit: That’s a matter of balancing online time with the rest of your life. It will be different for everyone.
RA: You said one commenter left your site because he didn’t like “the new Tom.” Since you figured out this technique, how significant has the response been? Do atheists warn each other about you?
TG: I don’t know if they do or not. I do know that I’ve had a lot less atheist interaction taking place on my blog since then. I’m okay with that, since those conversations weren’t so fruitful to begin with.
RA: This is such a groundbreaking little book. Did you sense that you were under spiritual attack while writing it?
TG: Like you, I’m a senior editor with The Stream, where we take Christian living and thinking very seriously (and try to have some fun with it, too). There’s always something going on that seems like spiritual attack. I’ll bet it’s no different for you.
Which opens a door for me to ask readers to pray for The Stream and for our readers. We’re all in spiritual battle.
RA: Do you see a follow-up, or expanded full book in print in the future?
TG: Expanded? That depends on what kind of feedback I get to this one. I think I’ve said what needed saying about dealing with Adversarials online, but there could be more questions I haven’t thought of, that need answering. Christians are more and more likely to run into Adversarial people face to face now, and I might write about that at some point, but it would be a very different book.
Print? Sure. Right now this book is only available on Kindle, but there should be a print format available by July 5, if not sooner.
RA: Where can people go to watch you employ this method? Is your blog the best place, or Facebook, Twitter, message boards?
Tom Gilson is a senior editor with The Stream, and is also the author of Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens (Kregel Publications, 2016). Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor